Bello:In the Spirit of New Lagos

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Mr. Olatunji Bello, Secretary to the Government of Lagos State, turned 55 just yesterday. As an accomplished journalist, political strategist and a solicitor of the Supreme Court, Bello’s recordisindeed atestament to a life of true stewardship and selfless service, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes.

Precisely on June 12, pro-democracy leaders and political actors converged on the Lagos Television complex, Agidingbi in good number. Like previous years, the actors largely discussed the centrality of June 12, 1993 presidential election and its annulment to the emergence of democracy in Nigeria.

But the session was almost endless due to fresh issues it obviously generated. After much deliberation, therefore, the session agreed to a consensus that without June 12, there would not have been May 29, the date now set aside to celebrate the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria after a 29-year staggered military rule.

At the session was the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Olatunji Bello. Obviously, Bello was at the session in two capacities. First, he represented the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, who was not in the country at that time. Second, Bello was equally there as one of the June 12 campaigners.

Even though he was standing in Ambode’s stead, Bello shared his own account of the June 12 struggle graphically. And that spoke so much about what the Lagos-born political strategist actually represented in two distinct worlds: in politics and in journalism. In journalism, Bello then vented people’s burden with his pen. But now in politics, Bello regularly bears the burden of the masses.

That was the exact image his record of public service really avails the curious biographer or the researcher. Sadly enough,not many people were conversant with his roles in actualising the June 12 election. As a special assistant to the winner of the annulled election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, Bello pitched tent with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), fighting injustice and seeking equity for all.

Bello truly attended the 2016 anniversary of the annulled election with the same spirit. Even though June 12 had come and gone, Bello pointed out, one after the other, the reasons the date “will continue to remain germane in Nigeria’s political history except unjust political structure is objectively addressed.”

Grievously, Bello lamented the unbearable impact of a lopsided federal structure forced on Nigeria’s federating units. He cited the decision of the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to seize local government funds in Lagos State without just reasons. He pointed out the neglect of the Nigeria Police, which he said, did not guarantee the security of lives and properties.

As an actor in Lagos politics for decades, Bello reeled out what the Lagos State Government had spent to support the Nigeria Police in the last decade. According to available records, the state government had spent over N17.218 billion to support the state police operations under different administrations since former Governor Babatunde Fashola established the Lagos State Security Trust Fund (LSSTF).

Under the Fashola administration alone, the LSSTF record showed that N3.260 billion in cash and N9.201 billion in assets were spent. Likewise, Ambode had invested N4.756 billion in funding the police command six months into his administration. Each of these interventions had helped re-establish public order in the state.

Contingent on this record, Bello noted that the Government of Lagos State “funds almost all things. We are funding the police. We are funding federal road maintaining in the state. We are the one managing our ecological challenges. By any standard, universally, this does not guarantee fairness, equality and equity.”

For Bello, like other pro-democracy actors, true federalism is an answer. Pungently, Bello contended that if true federalism “is in place, Lagos State will not have actually had only 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). We need true federalism to guarantee fairness.”

Only nineteen days to his 55th anniversary, that was the burden of a true son ofLagos. As an accomplished journalist and political strategist, Bello never pretended campaigning for decentralised Nigeria; neither did he ever relent in pushing for the special status of Lagos State like other former capitals in the world.

From the passion he exuded at the 2016 anniversary of the June 12 election, however, Bello signalled the next public course he would perhaps live to push valiantly in the years or in the decades to come. The same passion might even define the manner he would celebrate his anniversary henceforth.

Ambode, for instance, had devoted his birthday to fighting cancer and other related killer diseases. Fashola delights spending good time with special children on his every birthday. Likewise, the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu annually marks his birthday with focus on building the nation and deepening democratic culture.
Tinubu, their political mentors, had set up an annual colloquium, which the now Vice President, Prof. Oluyemi Osinbajo once said, had become a platform for discussing national challenges; dissecting existing public policies and programmes and coming up with informed positions to tackle these challenges.

Curiously, heading to a new phase in his political life, Bello’s passion undoubtedly depicts his resolve to push the more for the vision of a truly decentralised Nigeria, a country where fairness prevails and a country where Lagos can completely unleash its potentials with little or no interference from the federal government.

Right at the state level, Bello’s antecedents show his relentless effort towards realising the goal of Africa’s model megacity. Under the Tinubu administration, Bello was in the frontline, churning out diverse policies and programmes, which former Ogun State Governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba recently said, brought about positive change in the state’s greening project and waste management.

Even though he did not directly serve in Fashola’s first term, Bello’s record was indelible. His successor, Dr. Muiz Banire held forth in good faith and strengthened policies and programmes Bello had laid for sustainable environment in a state faced with diverse challenges i.e. ocean surge and flooding.

Bello’s return to Fashola’s cabinet offered him rare opportunities to make more strategic inputs at a troubled period. It was at a troubled time because ocean surge had just eaten up Okun Alfa, a shoreline suburb on which Alfa Beach was located and the state was standing a very high risk of losing Goshen Estate too.

It was at a time some critics relentlessly attacked the Eko Atlantic City, which the state government had promoted as a permanent solution to ocean surge. At that time too, it had even ended flooding at Ahmadu Bello Way and inward streets on Victoria Island.It was also at a time the federal government could have intervened from the Ecological Funds as the 1999 Constitution requires.

It was also a time when the Apapa Central Business District faced the deepening crises of urban degeneration. And at that time, the state only required N11 billion to regenerate the business district, which by estimate, had lost more than 75 percent of its commercial activities to traffic congestion and security challenges.

Even in recognition of these diverse challenges, former President Goodluck Jonathan visited Alfa Beach alongside Fashola and Bello. Also, the then Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Nkonjo Iweala led some members of the Federal Executive Council on a working visit to Apapa. It was Bello who conducted around the business district, explaining what the challenges at different stages.

Even after the working visit and its failure to yield desired outcome, Bello had stepped up intensive advocacy campaigns. Relentlessly,therefore, the Lagos-born political strategist campaigned for a proposal to accord Lagos State with a special status in line with what former Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed promised when Federal Capital Territory was relocated to Abuja about four decades ago.

In Fashola’s second term, Bello engaged the federal government meaningfully to get some support from the Ecological Funds. At different fora, Bello made heart-touching presentations, screening the plight of the people, showing the danger of ocean surge and explaining the helplessness of the state government. As Osoba said recently, all these efforts are marks of selfless service and continuity.

By all standards, undoubtedly, Bello has impacted positively on his generation and society, which might have even informed Ambode’s decision to appoint him as the Secretary to the State Government precisely on May 29, 2015. Beyond his public life, per se, Bello is a political scientist, accomplished journalist and a lawyer.

Born on July 1, 1961, Bello attended Ansar- Ud- Deen College, Isolo and proceeded to the University of Ibadan where he bagged the Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1984.Also, he went to the University of Lagos, Akoka for a Masters Degree in International Law & Diplomacy graduating in 1988.

Dissatisfied with his academic credentials, Bello returned to the University of Lagos, where he pursued and bagged a Bachelor of Law.He was called to the Bar after his successful completion of a one-year programme at the Nigeria Law School, Lagos in 2000. He is a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

Bello had an enviable stint in journalism for about two decades before joining public service. He actually started with the defunct Concord Press of Nigeria as a Feature Writer and rose through the ranks as Senior Writer, Assistant Features Editor and Political Editor. He later became the Editor of Sunday Concord in 1995 before having appointed the Editor of National Concord in 1999.

After the herald of civil rule in 1999, Bello joined THISDAY Newspapers Group as the Chairman of its Editorial Board. He used the office to make critical interventions, which thousands of his readers believed, had provide an alternative voice for the masses irrespective of their ethno-religious attachments.

He brought his spirit of activism into journalism, which in all his works, propelled him to seek a better and egalitarian Nigeria. His activism started at the University of Ibadan when he was the Vice-President of the Students Union. He was still committed to this progressive cause when Tinubu appointed him the Commissioner for the Environment.

Of himself, Bello once said he never expected his elevation to the State Executive Council even thoughTinubu briefed on one or two occasions on the need to join his administration. Beyond what he actually represents in politics and in journalism, Bello now looks into the future in the spirit of new Lagos.